We have put off talking about this for a long time. We needed a chance to let the dust settle before writing about our experience last year. As many of you know, we taught in Seoul last year. We taught a private academy, or hagwon. We chose to live in the capital because of the convenience for foreigners and also because Seoul just seemed like such an interesting and fun place to live. And it was. However, our school situation left a lot to be desired. We ended up getting stuck in one of the infamous “Nightmare Hagwons.” Here’s our story:

nightmare hagwon cover2

Upon first arriving to the school to greet the Director, we were introduced to some of the other foreign teachers as well. They pulled us aside and whispered frantically, “RUN.” Then they walked away like nothing had happened.

The Director then took us to our apartment. It was a single person apartment, and we were a couple, but that wasn’t the worst part. The hot water was broken, there was only a tiny twin bed, and no comforter. The hot water was the worst part because Korea uses “ondol” heating in the winter. Hot water is pumped under the floor and heats the apartment. Since there was no hot water we were stuck for over a week taking frozen showers and huddling for warmth in our 9 degree Celsius apartment.

We didn’t know what to think, but we toughed it out. We started hearing more from the other teachers about pay issues and that we should try to find another job. Our recruiter, however, was not returning our calls or emails.

We decided to try to make things work, mostly because we had no idea how to change schools and if we would have to leave the country and start all over again with paperwork and job searching.

Our first month pay was less than half of what was agreed upon. He gave us only 1 million of the 2.2 million won we were promised. Sadly, this was the largest lump amount we were given the entire time we were there. Most of the time he would just give around 100,000 – 200,000 won. This eventually led to us being more than 3 months behind on pay.

You can go to the Labor Board and file a complaint, but we knew that this had been done to him many times in the past, and nothing had come of it. The Director had also been sued more than 30 times. Still, he was allowed to continue his business and was not made to pay his teachers and the lawsuits amounted to virtually nothing, as he just lied and doctored documents to prove his innocence.

Over a year’s time, more than 60 teachers came and left the school. Most of them were Korean and had more rights than us. We were allowed to be in Korea because the Director paid for our one year visa. Make him mad, you go home.

Other issues were no overtime pay, no pension, no health insurance, and not getting our 10 days vacation. We really loved our students and I think that was one of the only things that kept us sane throughout that long year.

Somehow, we managed to finish our contract. Still to this day, we are owed our last month’s salary as well as our severance pay (equal to one month’s salary). Just around 8,000,000 won combined. We call the Director a few times every week, but since leaving in March he has paid us only around 200,000 won each.

So that’s our story. However, there are many teachers who work for hagwons and love their jobs. So next week, we will talk about what to consider when looking for hagwon job.